The legalization of marijuana will increase crime, further illicit drug dependency and have an adverse effect on teens and impoverished communities across Missouri, according to opponents.
Legalizing marijuana, even for medical use, would be a huge mistake and cause long-term negative effects, according to a group called Keeping Missouri Kids Safe, which is pitching its message across the state. Its members come from law enforcement, civic groups, drug prevention and other organizations.
“We have a community health crisis on our doorsteps, and our children’s lives and health depend upon the decisions that we make as a community, as a state and as Missourians,” Joy Sweeney, executive director of the Council for Drug-Free Youth, said Thursday in Kansas City.
Multiple efforts are underway to legalize marijuana in Missouri. Several measures have been introduced in the General Assembly, and other people want to amend the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Four of those states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — and the District of Columbia have gone beyond that and allow marijuana to be used recreationally.
However, opponents in Missouri said those communities have experienced dramatic increases in crime and other societal problems.
“There is a real push by the pro-marijuana advocates to pass this now because we are just now seeing the horror stories from Colorado and Washington,” said Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd. “And the more people learn about what a disaster this has been (elsewhere), the less likely this will pass.
“My fear is that right now, people don’t know how bad the effects have been.”
In states that permit marijuana use, the number of teens using the drug has dramatically increased, the group says.
The younger an adolescent begins using marijuana, the more likely he or she will become addicted to other illicit drugs in adulthood, said Jennifer Lowry, a chief toxicologist with Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Marijuana use among teens affects their motor skills, worsens their memories, and causes violent and unpredictable behavior, she said. Teens who use drugs are less likely to complete high school or earn a college degree, she said.
The proposed legalization legislation in Missouri also would allow marijuana edibles, such as sugary candies that mistakenly can be consumed by children. Adults using marijuana are more likely to abuse or neglect their children, Lowry said.
In Colorado, drug- and narcotic-related crimes in Denver jumped 12 percent between 2012 and 2014, and homicide rates increased 74 percent, Zahnd said.
Supporters say that prisons are full of first-time marijuana users, but that is not the case, he said.
“I have sent a lot of people to prison, but I have never sent anyone to prison just because they possessed a joint,” Zahnd said. “To say it another way, I have never sent anyone to the joint for possessing a joint.”